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Does Shea Butter Clog Pores?

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Shea butter is a fantastic all-natural moisturizer that can be used on the face. One of the things that makes it different from a lot of moisturizers, apart from being all-natural, is that it can be used for skin types from oily to dry. It moisturizes without making skin oily or greasy, as a lot of moisturizers do.

However, if you have pores prone to clogging, or if acne is an issue, you’re probably wondering – Does shea butter clog pores?

There has been a lot of debate, and contradicting information out there as to whether or not shea butter clogs pores (is comedogenic). In this article, we are going to look at shea butter and its fatty acids and their role in the skin’s function, and give you the information so you can decide if you want to try it.


Why Beat Around The Bush (err Tree)?

shea butter tree
Shea Butter Tree (Vitellaria Paradoxa) Source: Wikipedia

OMG! How frustrating!!! Right now you are probably thinking – why not just tell me! Does it clog pores or not?

This is not just an annoying clickbait article written for you to “keep reading”. The reason why we cannot emphatically say it clogs pores or it does not is because there has been no official research conducted into the comedogenic (pore-clogging) effects of shea butter.

No research has found shea butter to be either comedogenic or non-comedogenic, according to the existing standards.

The official jury is still out. 

That all having been said, although there are a lot of people out there who claim that shea butter is non-comedogenic, even ranking them on a scale (not sure how anyone can make those claims since it has not been proven) there is a lot of evidence that suggests shea butter does most likely clog pores.


What Is Shea Butter?

African Raw Shea Biutter

Shea butter is the natural fat extracted from the nut of the African Shea tree, shown in the previous section.

Shea butter is solid at room temperature. It is packed with vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids. Its smooth, easy spreading consistency soothes and conditions the skin, making it an excellent natural moisturizer that is ideal for almost all skin types.

There are two types of shea butter:

  1. Raw/unrefined shea butter

Raw shea butter is extracted and prepared without the use of chemical preservatives. Raw shea butter has a distinct nutty/earthy smell that not everyone is a fan of. It contains impurities and is not always uniform in consistency.

  1. Refined shea butter

Refined shea butter does not have an odor. It’s been processed to remove impurities, give it a smoother texture, and preservatives are added to increase the shelf life.

Most cosmetics and body products that contain shea butter use the refined version for these reasons.

However, though it will still retain its ability to moisturize, the refining process strips shea butter of almost all of its natural vitamins and healing properties.

If you are going to use shea butter, raw is the way to go.

For the purpose of the information in this article, we are talking about raw shea butter.

Shea butter is predominantly made up of 4 fatty acids:

  • Oleic acid: 55%
  • Stearic acid: 28%
  • Palmitic acid: 8%
  • Linoleic acid: 7%

We will elaborate more on these specific fatty acids and their effects which will be key to understanding how the skin uses these fatty acids, and whether they are more likely to be good for congested skin, or will clog pores.


Does Shea Butter Clog Pores?

Shea Butter being applied

First and foremost, making claims as to whether or not shea butter clogs pores is misleading, as there have been no studies to that effect.

This is why manufacturers cannot put “non-comedogenic” on the label.

On the other hand, just because the research hasn’t been done yet, doesn’t necessarily mean that shea butter does clog pores.

It just means no one has the authority to say either way. Kind of like how you can’t sell vegetables from your garden as “organic” even if they were grown with no pesticides unless you have that official stamp.


Arguments in Favour Of Shea Butter Not Clogging Pores

  • Reduces sebum production – Sebum is an oily, waxy substance produced by your body’s sebaceous glands. Overproduction of sebum leads to oily skin, clogged pores and can trigger breakouts when the excess sebum mixes with dead skin cells and forms a plug in the follicle.

The biggest argument in shea butter’s defense as to why some believe it does not clog pores is that it “tricks” the skin that it has enough sebum because “the moisturizers in shea butter mimic sebum”, therefore reducing sebum production.

  • Restores the natural balance of oils in the skin – Shea butter is an emollient, which means it creates a barrier on the skin that locks in moisture and makes your skin feel soft and smooth and not oily.
  • It’s antibacterial* – “A 2012 study showed decreased antimicrobial activity in animals. Although more research is needed, this could indicate possible antibacterial benefits in humans. Because of this, some speculate that topical application may decrease the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the skin.”

Debunking The Arguments That Shea Butter Does Not Clog Pores

Consistency

The biggest argument against shea butter being non-comedogenic is its consistency. You don’t need studies, research, and official findings to know that a thick waxy product that sits heavy on your skin is going to make the situation worse.

Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you, shea butter is butter that locks in moisture, yes, but also oils. The last thing you need is your pores with an overproductive sebaceous gland, producing oils in the skin, trapped with nowhere to go.

Does not restore the ‘natural balance’ of oils in the skin

This also ties into the consistency of shea butter. If you’ve ever tried it, you know once applied, it makes your skin feel soft and “buttery”, almost waxy, smooth, but not oily.

It’s not because your oils are naturally balanced, it’s because shea butter is an emollient. What you are feeling is that waxy barrier on your skin, locking in not only all that moisture, but the oils too.

Shea Butter is not antibacterial

A few things we’d like to point out about the study quoted above:

  1. This study was conducted using the bark of the shea tree, not shea butter.
  2. The study was conducted on animals, not humans and not specifically for bacteria that causes acne.

To suggest these findings as “supporting research” that shea butter helps acne-prone skin is very misleading. If people link to their “supporting studies” – click the link! Find out if what they are saying is actually verified, and not just an attempt to make it look more legit.

Fatty Acids in Shea Butter are more comedogenic than not

The fatty acids in shea butter also lean much more toward shea butter clogging pores, than being non-comedogenic. To understand what it’s made from is to get the full picture.


Fatty Acids in Shea Butter

Oleic Acid

oleic acid makes up 55% of the fatty acid in shea butter. Oleic acid is what supposedly “tricks” your sebaceous gland into thinking that your skin has enough sebum.

Oleic acid is an omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid which our bodies naturally produce and is actually found in our skin’s sebum. When continuously applied to the skin, oleic acid has been shown to increase the skin’s barrier permeability by disrupting the sebum naturally present in the epidermis, which can lead to clogged pores.

Although Oleic acid has a multitude of benefits for dry skin, it is not recommended for those with very oily skin and prone to acne. Oleic acid is considered comedogenic.

Stearic Acid

Stearic acid is a wax-like saturated fatty acid that accounts for 28% of the fatty acids in shea butter. Our bodies are able to naturally produce it. Stearic acid is an emulsifier, emollient, and lubricant that softens skin. 

It has the ability to be converted into oleic acid in the skin, which can, in turn, contribute to clogged pores and breakouts. Stearic acid is considered comedogenic.

Palmitic Acid

Palmitic acid is a solid saturated fatty acid obtained from palm oil and other vegetable and animal fats and makes up 8% of the fatty acids in shea butter. It too can be converted into oleic acid in the skin.

It decreases the anti-inflammatory effects of essential fatty acids like linoleic acid. Palmitic acid is also considered comedogenic.

Linoleic Acid

Linoleic acid makes up only 7% of the fatty acids in shea butter. It is an omega-6 polyunsaturated essential fatty acid that we must get through dietary sources as our bodies can’t produce it naturally. Low levels of linoleic acid are often found in skin that’s excessively dry or excessively oily.

Low levels of linoleic acid impair the skin’s barrier function, which can lead to clogged pores. This means that using oils high in linoleic acid actually helps to reduce clogged pores.

So of the 4 fatty acids contained in shea butter, three of them are comedogenic, and one (linoleic acid) can actually help to reduce clogged pores, but only if present in a large enough amount.

With only 7% linoleic acid and 55% oleic acid, shea butter is much more likely to clog pores than not.

When using oils on the skin, especially on the face, they should be high in linoleic acid and low in oleic acid (and saturated fatty acids) in order to prevent the likelihood of clogged pores. Shea butter does not fit the bill.


Take Away

Although shea butter has not been studied and given an official rating as to whether it’s comedogenic or non-comedogenic, it’s safe to say that if you are prone to clogged pores, you might want to avoid shea butter. 

See also:

Fake Tan on Dry Skin: A Bad Idea?

Should Concealer Be Lighter Than Foundation?